News Item: Judge allows bail for astronaut charged with attempted murder in Florida.And it's a good line, which I wish I'd made up all by myself.
All together now: An astronaut who isn't a flight risk?
But the tawdry story of Lisa Nowak's love triangle and apparent disintegration provides a kind of metaphor for NASA and our space program in general.
President Kennedy set this nation on course for the Moon in 1961.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin got there in July 1969.
But we didn't stay.
In December 1972 -- nearly 35 years ago -- the Lunar Module Challenger lifted off from the southeastern rim of Mare Serenitatis with Harrison Schmitt, Eugene Cernan, and 243.6 pounds of moon rocks aboard. It was man's last trip beyond low Earth orbit.
Low Earth orbit: That's where the Shuttle goes. That's where the International Space Station flies -- at an altitude of around 191 nautical miles -- about 220 standard issue land miles. That's not much more than the distance between Chicago and Indianapolis (pulling two city names out of the air entirely at random). By comparison, the distance between Earth and the Moon is about 240,000 miles.
The human race got to go clear cross town once (actually, eight times, including six Moon landings) -- but we've been stuck in our backyard ever since.
We have this amazing astronaut corps -- stars among stars -- overachievers among overachievers -- each of them whip smart, brilliant. Use any superlative you want to use and you'll be understating the case.
And we're letting these wonderful people languish. We're letting them go to seed. We fly a Shuttle with 1970's technology. It goes nowhere special. We send our best and our brightest to install plumbing and electric on the space condo.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before the deterioration showed through: Bad things will happen if you keep a race horse hitched to a plow for too long.
The astronauts are the risk takers, the ones who would lead us to the stars if we would only let them. But we hold them back and hold them down and fret about every little thing. We live in a world so timid and fearful that we recall a million Easy Bake Ovens because five careless kids got burned.
So I'm sad today for Lisa Nowak. I'm sad for NASA. And I'm sad for all of us. We're all stuck here in our backyard with no likelihood of kicking open the gate any time soon.